In a country where a small spider can kill you it’s reassuring to know Mother Nature has a softer side. Hidden in the prehistoric valleys of the Blue Mountains National Park in New South Wales are hundreds of plants used by Aboriginal peoples to cure everything from earache and fevers to snake bites and colds. The best chance you have of spotting them and learning about the art of bush medicine is to delve deep into the forest with an expert guide. Walking ancient hunting tracks used by indigenous peoples, far from the car parks and crowded viewpoints, you will discover a different side of this wonderful national park.
One of the first things you are struck by as you descend into the chiselled gorges of the park is the smell – an astringent mix of eucalyptus and tea tree, a result of the oils evaporating from these plants which also gives the air its blue haze. While you might think of tea-tree oil being used to zap the odd spot, Aboriginals used it widely, inhaling the infused oil to cure coughs and stuffing the raw leaves into cuts to prevent infection. Colonial settlers soon learnt about this miracle plant and tea-tree oil was even issued to Australian soldiers in WWII.
Descending further, the hum of cicadas gets louder and the air becomes humid as you enter the moss- and lichen-encrusted cloudforest. While you concentrate on the barely distinguishable path, your eagle-eyed guide will point out everything from bush pears, an ancient Aboriginal snack, to the aptly named headache vine, once crushed and rubbed
directly into the skin to treat migraines. As the gradient steepens, you’re glad of the guide ropes attached to the slippery stone walls. Nonetheless most people end up with an impromptu mud pack on their lower half before they reach the bottom of the creek. As the air grows warmer and your spirits start to flag, your ears will welcome the hiss of the nearby Wentworth Falls, signalling both the hike’s end point and the prospect of an invigorating swim.
Blue Mountains bushwalks are offered year-round by River Deep Mountain High (http://www.rdmh.com.au) based in Katoomba, Blue Mountains National Park.